Combustible Celluloid
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With: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Michael Zagst, Xander Berkeley, Lynn Andrews
Written by: Bryan Bertino
Directed by: Bryan Bertino
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 95
Date: 11/06/2020

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Death House

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Essentially a haunted house movie, this foreboding, scary item relies on a few old horror tricks, but somehow freshens them up with its strong, vivid characters, and its dark sense of the unknown.

Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return home to their Texas family ranch, where their father lays dying. Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) greets them coldly, with "you shouldn't have come." That night, their mother chops off her own fingers and hangs herself in the barn. Over the course of a week, more and more strange and terrifying things begin to happen. A young girl appears at the door and asks Louise, "do you smell him? He's getting close." Is there a malevolent force amassing, and if so, can it be stopped?

Writer and director Bryan Bertino, who is best known for his gory, brutal home invasion movie The Strangers, takes a step back into something more classical with The Dark and the Wicked. With a potent sound design and use of music, he makes an old farmhouse and its accompanying barn, into places of terror. A homemade alarm system consisting of empty bottles and bits of metal dangling from strings becomes more of an attack than a warning.

Bertino employs many jump scares and artificial shocks, but within this atmosphere, they are genuinely chilling. Some scenes are visual FX-laden, but others, such as a simple phone call, can likewise make the skin crawl. Ireland and Abbott are very strong in their roles, arguing about what to do, wanting to get out of the house, but unable to leave their dying father. (A nurse asserts that a person dying alone is the worst thing that can happen.)

Their dynamic, full of regret and weariness, feels authentic. Perhaps the best thing about The Dark and the Wicked, however, is that it understands how the scariest stuff in the world is the unknown, and it uses that, right up to the final moment.

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